By Natalie G.
I was nervous to tell my dad I was dating Chris. I didn’t want to in the first place, but Chris was starting to get offended. I can’t remember how I brought it up on the phone, but I do remember how my dad responded.
“Is he Indian?” he asked.
“Is he white American?”
I paused. “Yes.”
I had expected hesitation, but there was dead silence on the other end. After a few seconds, I wasn’t sure what to say, but I had to start talking again to break the awkwardness. “Dad, it’s not a big deal!” I said. “It’s not serious!” This was a lie. In fact we had been dating for more than a year at this point.
I knew it—in the future, avoid talking to my dad about relationships if at all possible. Although my parents are divorced—uncommon among Indians—my dad is still traditional and conservative.
I don’t blame him. Lots of Indians aren’t sure how to react when they encounter nice, sweet-looking Indian girls or boys dating non-Indians. I’ve seen my fair share of Indian aunties stare us down when we’re in public. It’s hard to say whether they disapprove of the fact we’re in a relationship or whether they just stare out of curiosity. Physically, Chris is hard to miss. He’s very tall—around 6’5”, and also very fair. It’s his “Norwegian blood”, he likes to say. I am very short—only 5’1”—and generally petite.
I’m not offended by the aunties’ gaze. In my view, aunties call it like they see it. If they think you’re too skinny or too fat, they’ll tell you so. If they’re curious about who you are or who you’re with, they’ll stare. Much more culturally telling is the different ways Chris and I react to their looks.
If we’re holding hands, I’ll instinctively drop his. Chris will not. “I’m not going to try to be disrespectful, but I’m not going to act differently than I normally would,” he’s told me. “I don’t owe them anything, especially if they’re being judgmental.” I disagree. In my view, simply holding hands in front of them is being disrespectful. Indians are uncomfortable with public affection, and it’s not because he’s white. They’d be just as uncomfortable if they saw a young Indian couple holding hands. It embarrasses me to do so in front of them.